Brian Forth: 'Still Alive!'
Oct. 26, 2000
TEMPE, Ariz. - As if the exciting finish to last weekend's overtime win against Washington State wasn't enough, the plane ride home became the highlight of the trip for the Sun Devils. After a win on the road, Coach Snyder allows our team to watch an in-flight movie on the trip back to Tempe. 'Gone in 60 Seconds' was this week's flick, which proved to be an almost fitting title for the Sun Devils charter. As the end of the movie approached, a loud explosion, followed by an intense flash of light, suddenly rocked the plane. At first, everyone on the charter looked at one another for answers. The whole situation turned disastrous when a hysterical flight attendant from our section came barreling down the aisle telling us passengers to put on our seatbelts on. Once I saw her reaction, I thought our plane was doomed. Moments later, the Captain announced on the loud speaker that the plane had been hit by lightning and that we would be landing momentarily. Those next 15 minutes were the longest of my life. Along with the rest of the team, I gratefully greeted the landing at Sky Harbor Airport.
Back to last weekend's game. Washington State University may be one of the most scenic venues the Pac-10 has to offer. After arriving in Lewiston, ID, the team traveled almost an hour to the north to our hotel in Moscow, ID. Moscow is located eight miles away from Washington Sate and is the only spot in the area that can accommodate our large party. The scenic drive takes you through rural America. It was a nice change of pace to see the autumn colored leaves on the trees and to have a brisk wind in your face. After checking in, our team again boarded the buses and headed to the stadium for our walk through. I was anxious to see how Washington State's new synthetic grass felt. It is unlike traditional turf that requires wearing flat running shoes. Even though it had been raining all day in the Palouse and the field was soaked, footing was not a problem on the new turf. Many players, including myself, enjoyed playing on this new surface and were impressed with its similarities to natural grass. Another tradition this football team has on road trips is a contest at the conclusion of our Friday walk through. This week's contest matched the wide receivers and quarterbacks against the secondary. The winner would get milk shakes after our evening meetings. The competition this week was a ball-rolling contest from the ten-yard line. The object of the game is to get your ball closest to the goal line without going into the end zone. Cornerback Josiah Igono and myself were the lucky finalists. After losing the coin toss, I was forced to roll first. I decided to play it smart and keep my ball in the playing field and put the pressure on Josiah. This proved to be a costly mistake. Josiah along with the rest of the defense won and enjoyed the 'best' milkshakes later that evening.
I had noted before last weekend's contest that all the Sun Devils needed to do was win against the Cougars. Nothing fancy, just a win. I didn't think the team would take me literally and the game proved to be a lot more exciting than anticipated. Let's get something straight right away. Washington State is a much better team that their 3-4 record reflects. They could have easily won an earlier match against Idaho and an overtime thriller against Arizona. They certainly could have beaten us if it wasn't for the last second heroics of Adam Archuleta and Mike Barth. Washington State made some costly errors early in the game that proved to be the difference in the outcome. On their first two possessions, the Cougars were able to move the ball downfield against our defense, only to turn it over on two costly interceptions. The Devils were able to capitalize on these mistakes and took an early 14-0 lead. For some reason after the beginning of the second quarter, the wheels started falling off. The Cougars closed the gap to four points, but the Devils bounced back with a late touchdown reception by Donnie O'Neal to increase the lead to eight before the half. After the half, the Cougars tied the game up with a long touchdown reception and successful two-point conversion. The rest of the game was a defensive struggle. After receiving a minor concussion in the first half, Jeff Krohn returned to the game and led the Devils on two long drives late in the game, only to miss a long field goal and throw an interception before time expired. I feel that those last two drives are something the Devils can build off for the remainder of the season. Tom Pace established himself as a fine running back in this conference, finishing the game with 103 yards rushing. Richard Williams made a tremendous catch to keep the Devils alive late in the game on a crucial third down. Justin Taplin continues to improve each week (47-yard punt return, 3 critical catches for 51 yards). Defensively, the Devils bent, but didn't break. Although the Washington State receivers were able to make some tremendous plays, the defense limited their offense to 15 plays in the fourth quarter. Included in those plays were a fumble near the goal line, an interception, four incomplete passes, and four plays for either no gain or loss yardage. The most critical play came in overtime when Adam Archuleta intercepted a Jason Gesser offering, ending the Cougar's lone offensive possession. Mike Barth proved to be a clutch player once again this season with his overtime field goal to lift the Devils to victory. In typical Sun Devil fashion, we made the final filed goal a lot more exciting than it needed to be. Our coaching staff wisely elected to attempt the field goal on third down, in the event of a bad snap. As luck would have it, the ensuing play almost proved deadly as a high snap sailed over Griffin Goodman's head, only to be recovered by Barth. This set up a crucial fourth down attempt to win the game. This time, a perfect snap, hold, and kick lifted the Devils to victory. The moral of the story is Arizona State did what it needed to do, that is win. It may not have been pretty, but we'll take it.
The number seven ranked Oregon Ducks come to town this weekend. Word from Eugene is that the Ducks are already talking about the Rose Bowl since the toughest part of their schedule is completed. There is no doubt in my mind that this team is good. Oregon comes into the game as the winningest program in the conference in the past six seasons. After hours of film study all week, it is hard to find many flaws in their team. Oregon has been playing the most consistent football in the league all season. Their defense is ranked 13th in the nation while their offense is 17th. Offensively, Oregon has a superb quarterback in Joey Harrington, who statistically has been better on the road than at home this season. Tailback Maurice Morris is a hard runner who is second in the Pac-10 in rushing. Keenan Howry, who is from my rival high school in Orange Country, CA, is labeled as the best route runner in the conference. The defense may be the strong point of this Oregon team. In three contests this year, the defense has held their opponents to less than 20 yards rushing. Linebacker Matt Smith is the leading tackler on the team and was recently announced as a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually given to the nation's top linebacker. Rashad Bauman, who is a local product from Phoenix, is considered one of the top cover men in the conference. He is a very aggressive player that backs his talk up with his play.
The Sun Devils have a very bitter taste in their mouth after losing to the Ducks last season on a last second touchdown pass from Joey Harrington to Marshaun Tucker. The Devils had the Ducks beaten, but couldn't close the deal. Mathematically the Devils are still in contention for the conference title, but we need some help from other schools. A win against the Ducks would catapult this university into the national rankings and keep our title hopes alive. The Sun Devils are 'still alive,' in every sense of the phrase!